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Learning To Learn: 5 Ways To Upgrade Your Brain

We humans like to think we're something special, and as arrogant as it may seem, we are not entirely wrong. Our ability to learn and understand, not only the tangible but the abstract, has accelerated our dominance over the world around us.

Knowledge is power

It is the things that we learn that shape who we are as individuals and in each of our seemingly generic skulls lies a supercomputer as curious and unique as its owner, downloading and processing a continuous stream of data through the various channels and interfaces we call 'the senses'.

 

brain

 

The vast majority of the information we store is absorbed without any conscious effort, but this amazing power of intake is not beyond our control.

Yet through mental focus, we are able to direct our learning abilities towards a subject of our choosing... like learning to code!

Two modes of conscious thinking

Our conscious brains have two modes of thinking: focussed and diffuse. To understand what they are, let's paint a mental picture.

Imagine your mind as a vast, dark room with a single light hanging from the ceiling at its centre. The room is filled with all the things that you take in from the outside world, but only where the light shines are you able to see and understand them.

light-bulb-dark

Now imagine that light being a spotlight with an intense beam. You can shine the beam wherever you choose, seeing every detail of its target with clarity, but the other parts of the room become dark and indiscernible. This is analogous with mental focus. The more focussed we are the clearer we see our target, but it is much more difficult to perceive those things in our periphery.

On the other end of the spectrum is a dim light that illuminates every part of the room just enough to discern one thing from another. This is analogous to the diffuse state of thinking, where we hold thoughts with less intensity but we skip freely from one to another and each thought is given more context by those in our periphery - for example, when we're taking a shower or doing the vacuuming, our minds tend to wander. Nevertheless, this can be when our most ingenious ideas strike us! That's because this is the time where the information we absorbed during our focussed state is processed and consolidated.

With this in mind, here's a short list of proven techniques that will enhance your learning powers!

1. Intermittent focus

Short periods of focus followed by intervals of relaxed thinking help to solidify new memories.

Tools such as the pomodoro timer are useful for implementing this technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes and spend that time focussing on the task at hand. When the time is up relax and do something that requires little mental effort.

timer

This gives your brain respite and time to process what you have been focusing on. Shorter study sessions are proven to be more effective for learning. 3 hours of learning spread over 3 sessions is more effective than a single 3 hour session.

 

2. Learning in your sleep

Studies have revealed that a good night’s sleep, or even just a nap, after a short period of focussed study reinforces new memories, meaning you get more bang for your buck in terms of study time! What better excuse for a lie in?

kitty

3. Interleaving

We’re often told that to get the most out of the time we spend learning, we should focus on one subject at a time; that we should withstand the urge to move on until we have a firm grasp of the subject we’re learning.

But there is an increasing interest in a learning technique known as interleaving which is shown to be more effective for retaining those newly formed memories. Rather than learning one skill after another, interleaving involves alternating study topics so that your learning is more staggered.

 

4. Exercise

Exercise has a positive impact on the brain, and that's well backed up by science. Interestingly, it has differing effects depending on the type of exercise being performed.

doggy

Aerobic exercise routines have been shown to improve memory, weight lifting boosts growth in the parts of the brain responsible for complex thinking, reasoning, multi-tasking and problem solving, whilst sports drills also have a positive impact on these areas as well as those related to attention, inhibition, visual-spacial processing and task switching. All of these benefits contribute to a more efficient pattern of thinking and increased learning capabilities - so make sure you make time for a workout, even when you're busy!

 

5. Self Belief

When we hit plateaus in learning, a belief in one’s own capabilities can be the difference between pushing through and giving up, and the more we succeed in overcoming these challenging periods, the stronger our sense of self efficacy becomes, creating a cycle of positive mental reinforcement.

You can help nurture your own self-belief in a number of ways. Acknowledging your own successes helps you to incorporate your accomplishments into your own self-image. Avoid comparing yourself too harshly with others. We often compare the best of those around us to the things we don't like about ourselves, but if we bear this in mind we can use these thoughts constructively. Better still compare yourself to where you were 3 months ago. It's something we tell every new group of students, and for us, one of the most important pieces of advice we give.

Most new Software Developers have "Impostor Syndrome" when they first start their jobs. But it never lasts. Developing your skills and bettering yourself gives you more reasons to believe in yourself, and overcoming hurdles like starting a new career is the perfect example!

 

Bringing It All Together

You want to get the most out of the time you spend on Coding Bootcamp. By using a model of short periods of focussed study, where topics are rotated between sessions, separated by exercise or sleep, you can harness more of the incredible processing power of your mind!

If you would like to find out more about developing your learning powers through code, click here!

Johnny Dunsby
JD is a Northcoders Tutor. He thinks you should learn to code because the more you learn, the more interesting it becomes!

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